15 October 2013

Nothing if not pragmatic

Two examples why press gallery journalists just don't matter when it comes to covering politics: Clementine Ford and Hugh White ran rings around that sad little drop-seeker who wallows in the title of "chief political correspondent".

Journalists wring their hands and act all conflicted when it comes to the balance of what they report versus maintaining relationships. They are taught to do this by journo-trainers, who consider this to be a Matter of Deep Conflict, when clearly in the press gallery it no longer is. This press gallery isn't even trying to maintain any sort of balance. They have invested all their credibility over years and years in hoping establishing that an Abbott government would be immeasurably better than one led by Gillard or Rudd. Any evidence to the contrary, we now see, will be ignored or even turned into some sort of Orwellian triumph:
Travelling abroad, Tony Abbott has been saying things very different from what we have heard from him in Australia. There are two ways to interpret this. One is to praise him for suddenly becoming a statesman, putting the national interest over petty domestic politics. The other is to see him as weak, unprincipled and insincere. The first interpretation has prevailed among Australia's kind-hearted commentators. But our regional neighbours are not so generous and they will incline to the second interpretation. So Abbott's diplomacy is off to a shaky start.
No sensible person wants to encourage Abbott in any way with his weird and cruel measures against refugees, yet even so it has to be said that his most substantive pre-election policy has pretty much been defeated in the hour of its triumph. It has to be said, but it won't be by journalists. As he does with all powerful people (e.g. Murdoch, Pell, Howard), Abbott prostrated himself before President Yudhuyono and got precisely nothing in return, for himself or for the country. That nothing was also overlooked by the travelling media, whose expense claims eat into resources that could have been devoted to valuable investigative journalism.

He gave a shit-happens to Malaysia and made himself look ridiculous in both Beijing and Tokyo by both insisting on a China free-trade deal but then spiking it. These so-called journalists made up for it not by providing information to Australians seeking validation of their new government, but instead going the suck on the new government in the hope of landing a few drops going forward.

Abbott told the media on 1 October that turning refugee boats around and sending them back to Indonesia was never a part of Coalition policy. A few press gallery journalists noted this with bemusement but none recognised it for the blatant lie, the signal of sheer disrespect, that such a statement most assuredly was. The press gallery simply lacks the self-respect not to throw that back in Abbott's face again and again, like the first half of Gillard's statement about "no carbon tax". The sheer gall of these people in simply transcribing this quote and passing it on, as though we who must have misunderstood.

Journalists profess concern for their colleagues in developing societies who risk arrest and even death in simply doing their jobs. Yet, when presented with the opportunity to stand up for their foreign counterparts in a real way, they declined. They declined to tell us about it too, hoping perhaps that we wouldn't notice, forced as we are to seek our news more broadly than a groupthink-fucked press gallery could ever offer.

Yes, foreign policy can be complex. What's not complex is the politics-as-theatre-review, with its well-stocked pantry of cliches (thanks Annabel!) which enable even the dimmest journalists to assemble prefab stories out of nothing. With no irony at all, Fairfax smart-arse Judith Ireland giggled at a newbie politician:
Keen to mark the moment when she first made it into the House of Representatives as an MP, Ms McGowan tweeted a seemingly harmless picture - of herself sitting on a bench in the chamber, "listening to an address from the Speaker, Anna Burke".

What the member for Indi did not realise was that taking pictures in the House of Representatives is a tightly restricted activity - only accredited press gallery photographers can take still images of parliamentary proceedings.

While Parliament was not officially in session, Ms McGowan's twit pic was still a no no, due to the high degree of sensitivity about images taken in the chamber.

"Media activity" is prohibited in private areas of Parliament, including on the House of Representatives and Senate chamber floors.

In part, this is to ensure "respect for the privacy" of MPs and "non-interference" with the ability of parliamentarians to carry out their duties.
When Julia Gillard was Prime Minister, her chair was shifted a metre or so to the right so that "accredited press gallery photographers" could not take pictures down her cleavage. In no part whatsoever is this a matter of "respect for the privacy" of MPs - parliamentary debates are a matter of public, not private activity. MPs take pictures in their offices all the time, whether or not the picture-taker is 'accredited'.

The process of 'accreditation' is one of those expensive public-sector make-work schemes: in this case one that protects Ireland's colleagues, and enables her employer to retail the fantasy that it offers superior coverage of politics through having employees in the press gallery. Neither Clementine Ford nor Hugh White are members of the press gallery, and we have seen that their insight is superior to that of Kenny or Ireland - with their superior knowledge of bogus 'rules' and what is or isn't (to use the fancy technical term) 'a no no'. There is a real question over whether the (quasi-)legal processes and law-enforcement measures of the state should go toward propping up failing enterprises in this manner, a question the press gallery are both too dim and too conflicted to answer.

Cathy McGowan is an accredited member of parliament, given that accreditation by tens of thousands of Australian voters. Hundreds of thousands of Australian armed service personnel have fought and died to uphold the democratic process; nobody at all has exerted themselves in any way for the accreditation system. The process of accrediting photographers to the press gallery is both far less democratic and less legitimate than the process that propelled McGowan to her new role.

You can see by the angle of the picture of McGowan that she didn't take it herself. She sure as hell didn't shoot her own cleavage, like a 'professional' would given the chance. Too right McGowan won't be reprimanded - superjournalist Judith Ireland could not be any more usefully employed than in finding out who did take that picture of McGowan, and then tattling to Speaker Burke.

But it isn't only journalists who can't see what's in front of them and don't report it. Tony Abbott has committed a huge blunder in his handling of his third Labor leader:
Mr Abbott has previously indicated he would do whatever it takes to abolish the carbon tax – including calling a double dissolution election – but on Tuesday at a press conference at Canberra's Parliament House he retreated from this scenario.

“We are confident that the public pressure on the Labor Party will be such that they will not defy the mandate of the Australian people,” Mr Abbott said.

Mr Shorten, he suggested, would support the legislation because he was “nothing if not a political pragmatist … nothing if not a political survivor.”
Most of the Australian public want a price on carbon. Labor has to show that they stand for something - not making big statements and then backing down, like Rudd used to do (and as Abbott is also starting to do - smart observers of politics will keep an eye on this phenomenon, and on how drop-seekers cover it). If Shorten caves into Abbott he's a dead man - those Labor members who voted for Albanese will have been vindicated.

Too right Bill Shorten's a survivor. The hero of Beaconsfield, the builder of the foundations of DisabilityCare, he has a small but substantial record of achievement. As with Kim Beazley (Labor's only other leader with more experience in government than out), that record dissolves once he starts agreeing with the conservatives to often and too enthusiastically. Shorten doesn't have to go over the top like Abbott did - in fact, if he's calm and firm in his opposition it is the government that will start unhinging, and once again the voters will have to elect a government that can get things done.

The Coalition's lack of negotiating skill is not, as Greg Melleuish would have it, some technicality that can be easily overcome. It is a structural defect that cripples any prospect this government might achieve anything at all, for better or worse. Backing Bill Shorten into a corner where he has no choice but to look like a statesman is incredibly dumb. He really believes Shorten is just like him, but less so. Vain people make lousy strategists because they can't get over themselves, and the idea of anyone Leading Opposition to Abbott is more than he can bear.

Governments come and go, but the press gallery has sunk its credibility into the success of the Abbott government. If that government is manifestly unsuccessful, where does it leave them? Do they report that the emperor has no clothes, or witter about 'context'? What if they complain to the Speaker about a breach of privilege and she tells them where to go? The next government could well come to office over the dead body of the press gallery, bobbing lifelessly in the Arafura Sea after having searched for evidence that Tony Abbott's policies are tracking just fine and that our nation enjoys warm relations across the world as a result of his - and their - fine work.

Abbott wasn't too much of a lightweight to become Prime Minister, but he is too much of a lightweight to stay in the job and do it well. No amount of soft-focus journalism will make up for that, and nor will any but the best sort of journalism recover the reputations of media organisations represented in the press gallery.


  1. We walk as one Andrew. You must be right then.

    The media coverage of TA's trip to the Asian countries was laughable for the reasons you outlined.

    And now Mark Kenny is writing that TA has moved closer to calling a double dissolution. Pigs on runway!

    In my opinion, TA is just playing the heavy again but has made himself sound a bit nutty by calling on Labor 'to repent'. Immediately I thought of a wild-eyed ranter on a soap box exhorting passersby to Repent Now.

    I hope Shorten doesn't buckle. As you have pointed out TA has made it nigh on imposs for him to back down now. If he does now he would be a goose.

    1. Cast your eyes to First Dog on the Moon's 'toon in todays Crikey.

    2. Thanks Richard. Alas behind paywall. Why was he wearing a red bucket on his head? I would like to see him in a big red metal fez worn low, to the shoulders. Appealing idea.

  2. Love your writing, absolutely spot on.

  3. The press gallery has already sunk its credibility, their "narrative" being their anchor, and is clinging onto the liferaft of falling revenues while the new media ship sails on.

  4. I hadn't considered it much before because I thought it was unlikely in the extreme, but I think you are on to something when you say that Abbott can't handle an opposition leader opposing him. Back when he was health minister he normally came off second best to his opposing number more often than not.

  5. As you know my "love" for Mark Kenny, I'm sure you can imagine my joy at Huge White's huge putdown and exposure of Kenny's "kind-hearted" anlaysis.

    Kenny is really stretching that poor old Narrative to its limits!

  6. Tosser Inc Pty Ltd

    I wouldn't be surprised if there are secret 'liasons' with journos and politicos.....

    And i'm not being sarcastic....


  7. The egregiously stupid Samantha Maiden is having a conversation with Samantha Maiden about Clive Palmer dipping salted crackers into custard, hasn't that stupid woman ever eaten a delicious lemon slice which is a salt encrusted biscuit with lemon flavoured icing in the middle?

    Never eaten sweet and sour food? Fair dinkum, children and pregnant women being trafficked and traded and Sammy is on about salty biscuits and custard.

    I eat apricot jam on salty Salada biscuits, does that make me weird and I have yoghurt with apricots and other fruit - sweet and sour Sammy.

  8. Spot on.

    We had a moment with a photographer at The Wheeler Centre from The Australian who gave us a massive eye flirt...

    Never forget about the sleazy nature in his approach.


  9. Thanks Andrew. Your usual standard. However the link in the middle of Ireland's piece doesn't work.

  10. Andrew..

    Love to know what you think of Waleed Aly's essay on Tony Abbott.

    His analysis is always well researched and balanced.


    Hipster Libretarian

  11. Nicola Roxon calls Kevin Rudd a bastard...

    The circus continues...

    This weird world of politics is just geting too weird for me.

    It's so sad that the bad love between the liberals will be muted by the she-devil Peta Credlin.